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Taking Stock Of Events

The Government of India is eager to collect information about Netaji (Respected Leader) Subhas Chandra Bose from foreign countries. Bose (January 23, 1897 – August 18, 1945) was an Indian Nationalist whose defiance of British authority in India made him a hero among Indians, but his wartime alliances with Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan left a legacy vexed by authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, and military failure. In the consensus of scholarly opinion, Bose’s death reportedly occurred from third-degree burns on August 18, 1945 after the Taihoku crash, where the Japanese aeroplane he had boarded crashed in Japanese-ruled Formosa (now Taiwan). However, many among his supporters refused at the time, and have refused since, to believe either the fact or the circumstances of his death. Conspiracy theories appeared within hours of his death and have thereafter had a long shelf life, keeping alive various martial myths about the Indian freedom fighter.

Vellamvelly Muraleedharan, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs, recently told the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) that the Narendra Modi Government would soon try to bring documents, information and files related to Bose from Russia, Japan, China, the US and the UK. According to the minister, Britain has informed India that a total of 62 files related to Bose are available on the website of the British Library. Meanwhile, Russia, it is said, has not found any documents related to Netaji in its archives. The Kremlin has said that it has found nothing, despite further investigation into the matter at the request of the Government of India.

Subhas Chandra Bose

Earlier, Opposition MP (Member of Parliament) Jawhar Sircar asked the Government whether it had made any effort to bring Bose-related files and documents from countries, like Russia, Britain, the US and Japan. He also wanted to know if Prime Minister Modi had discussed the issue with leaders of those countries. In reply, Muraleedharan said the US recently informed India that they did not keep historical records of over 30 years. “The US National Archives and Records Administration informed that their archival records of that period were not digitised. Therefore, locating these documents would require extensive research of the records of different US Government agencies and they will not be able to do so,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Japan has declassified two files on Bose. “These files are part of their Archives and are available in the public domain. The Government of Japan has transferred these files to India and they are retained in the National Archives of India,” said the Indian minister. According to Muraleedharan, Tokyo has claimed that if there are any additional documents relevant to the matter, those would be declassified as per their policies after a prescribed time period and based on an internal review mechanism. However, China is yet to respond to India’s request.

Gandhi with Bose (R) in 1938

It may be noted that the two Commissions of Inquiry, formed by the Government of India, had concluded that Bose had died in a plane crash in Taipei on August 18, 1945, while a third Probe Panel, headed by Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee (December 1, 1933 – April 17, 2021), had contested it, suggesting that Bose was alive after the Second World War. The Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry was constituted in 1999 to inquire about the facts and circumstances related to Bose’s disappearance in 1945.

A section of the historians is of the opinion that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (November 14, 1889 – May 27, 1964), the first Prime Minister of India, had reportedly played an important role in Bose’s disappearance. Nehru, who did not want Bose’s presence in Independent India, was well aware of the fact that Netaji was alive even after the Second World War. In a letter to the then British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, dated December 27, 1945 (four months after the so called death of Bose), Nehru had reportedly written: “Dear Mr Attlee, I understand from a reliable source that Subhas Chandra Bose, your war criminal, has been allowed to enter Russian territory by Stalin. This is clear treachery and a betrayal of faith by the Russians. As Russia has been an ally of the British-Americans, it should not have been done, Please Take note of it and do what you consider proper and fit. Yours sincerely, Jawaharlal Nehru.” Considering the veracity of the same, it is quite unfortunate that Nehru referred Bose as a war criminal in his letter, and most importantly the date of the letter is December 27, 1945, whereas the official account states that Bose had died on August 18, 1945.

Nehru’s Letter

Historians believe that Nehru used to consider Bose and Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel (October 31, 1875 – December 15, 1950), the first Deputy Prime Minister of India, as his main competitors in the Indian National Congress (INC) party. It would have been difficult for Nehru to become the Prime Minister, had Bose returned to India after the end of the Second World War. It would have also become difficult for the Nerhu-Gandhi Family to rule the South Asian nation for more than 40 years in that case. While the Imperialist British rulers had always considered Bose as a Dangerous Enemy, they enjoyed friendly relations with Nehru. That is why the Nehru-Gandhi Family, as well as the INC, has always tried to establish the fact that Bose had died in a plane crash, and never allowed the Indians to know the Truth.

In another article published in India Today on April 10, 2015, Sandeep Unnithan said two recently declassified Intelligence Bureau (IB) files revealed that the Nehru Government had spied on the kin of Bose for nearly two decades (between 1948 and 1968)! Unnithan wrote: “The files show the IB resumed British-era surveillance on the two Bose family homes in Kolkata: 1 Woodburn Park and 38/2 Elgin Road. Apart from intercepting and copying letters written by Bose’s family members, agency sleuths shadowed them on their domestic and foreign travels. The agency seemed especially keen to know who all the Bose kin met and what they discussed. A series of hand-written messages shows the agents phoned in Security Control, as the IB headquarters was called, to report on the family’s movements.

Bose with Nehru (R)

Some of the members of the Bose Family used to send letters to Emily Schenkl, Bose’s wife, in Austria. “Surveillance is conducted on those who have committed a crime or have terror links. Subhas babu and his family fought for India’s Freedom; why should they be placed under surveillance?” asked his grand-nephew Chandra Kumar Bose.

In an article published in The Indian Express daily on January 24, 2022, Adrija Roychowdhury stated: “In public discourse and popular imagination Subhas Chandra Bose and the stalwarts of the Congress Party, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, are often seen at odds with each other. The Bose-Gandhi rivalry is frequently understood as the biggest dichotomy of the Indian Nationalist Movement, as its narrative is often picked up by parties now to further their own agenda.” She added: “The political rivalry between Bose and Nehru developed only from the later 1930s, and were a product of their differing attitudes towards Gandhi and the Nationalist Movement, as well as their opposing views towards Fascism and the Second World War.

Bose arriving at the 1939 annual session of the Congress, where he was re-elected as party President, but later had to resign after disagreements with Gandhi and the Congress High Command

After becoming the Prime Minister of India in 2014, Modi promised that he would declassify all the files related to Bose. However, the Government of India is yet to declassify all those files for reasons unknown.

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